Sloan Research Fellowships awarded to Computer Science’s David Duvenaud and Alec Jacobson

February 15, 2022 by Chris Sasaki - A&S News

Prestigious Sloan Research Fellowships have been awarded to David Duvenaud and Alec Jacobson, both assistant professors in the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of Computer Science.

"Through his deeply insightful research in machine learning, David has demonstrated the power of radically disruptive ideas,” says Marsha Chechik, chair of the Department of Computer Science. “His neural network research has had a lasting impact, catalyzing new areas of inquiry, and advancing the state of the art in areas from medical imaging to computational chemistry. He is richly deserving of this recognition.

"Alec has made outstanding contributions to the area of geometry processing,” says Chechik, “and it has been exciting to witness the impact of his prolific research across a range of fields, from architecture and structural engineering to art and theatre. He has paired his research with a deep commitment to mentorship and leadership in both the Department of Computer Science and the geometry processing community more broadly. My sincerest congratulations on this well-deserved recognition."

The annual fellowships are given to early career researchers in Canada and the United States who the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation recognizes as individuals “whose creativity, innovation and research accomplishments make them stand out as the next generation of leaders.”

“I'm honoured,” says Duvenaud, who is also a professor in the Faculty’s Department of Statistical Sciences. “And I’m grateful that this will help me continue to spend my days working in this field with my brilliant colleagues and students. I hope to repeat the trick of bringing tools developed in other fields — such as numerical computing — to bear on problems in deep learning.

“It's an exciting time to be working in these areas, because there are many fields, such as weather prediction and physical simulation, which are starting to cross-pollinate with probabilistic machine learning.”

Duvenaud received his PhD from the University of Cambridge and is a founding member of the Vector Institute. His research has had a major impact in the field of deep learning and focuses on constructing deep probabilistic models to help predict, explain and design things. His most significant research achievements include advances in Neural Ordinary Differential Equations (Neural ODEs); automatic differentiation, a technology at the heart of most of today’s deep learning systems; and breakthroughs in computational chemistry which helps predict chemical properties.

"Receiving the Sloan Fellowship is a tremendous honour,” says Jacobson, who is also a professor in the Faculty’s Department of Mathematics and holds a Canada Research Chair in Geometry Processing. “This fellowship will further propel our work at the University of Toronto and open new possibilities in geometry processing research.

“I am deeply grateful to my students, collaborators, colleagues and advisors who've helped shape my research career. As a white, cisgender man, my success is due in part to social systems that come at the cost of others. Acknowledging my privilege is just a first step toward change.”

Jacobson, who received his PhD from ETH Zürich, has made significant contributions in geometry processing — a field with applications in climate simulation, biomedicine and medical imaging, robotics and autonomous machines, architecture, product design, film and games. He has also made considerable impact in the areas of tangible user interfaces, scientific visualization, computational fabrication, computer-aided design, and image processing. His work is an integral part of Adobe Character Animator, the Emmy-winning animation software; and his 3D geometry processing algorithms are used by many companies such as Disney/Pixar and the Epic Unreal Engine.

Duvenaud and Jacobson are among five U of T recipients for 2022 and join 78 other U of T faculty who have received the honour since it was established in 1955.